STERLING – Orion gained just 46 more total yards than Newman on Saturday night at Roscoe Eades Stadium, but penalties were a glaring difference between the two Three Rivers Rock heavyweights.
The Comets committed seven penalties for 46 yards, including several that stalled drives, in a 20-17 loss to the Chargers.
“Those killed us all game,” Newman coach Mike Papoccia said. “We’d have a little mistake turn into a big thing, putting us in territory where we’re not very good. They were a better team than us tonight. They didn’t make those mistakes, and they’re a really solid team.”
Orion (3-0, 1-0 TRAC Rock) committed no penalties in the first half, and had just one holding call in the fourth quarter.
“When you go up against a disciplined team like Newman does every year, that’s how you have to beat them,” Orion coach Chip Filler said. “You have to minimize mistakes and stay out of predictable situations. If we could dictate the tempo, I thought we’d have a great chance of winning the football game.”
The Chargers’ win avenged two losses to the Comets last year, and handed Newman its first regular-season home loss since Week 6 of the 2015 season. In addition, Filler felt like the victory validated his team’s No. 3 ranking in the most recent Class 2A poll.
“We beat a storied program with a Hall of Fame coach and some Division I athletes on that side,” Filler said. “Our kids played great team ball.”
Newman (2-1, 0-1) came in ranked No. 2 in 2A, but never led in the contest. The Comets tied the score at 17-all late in the third quarter thanks to a Blue Machine-style drive. Luke Olson racked up 29 yards on the 10-play, 57-yard march that ate up 5:58 of game clock.
A false start before a third and 2 at the Orion 8-yard line pushed Newman back, and Olson’s 5-yard run came up short of the first down. Nate Ahlers calmly drilled a 25-yard field goal to tie the game with 32 seconds left in the third.
“I thought that really gave us momentum,” Olson said. “We just needed to step up on defense a little more. We have to come to practice and get better.”
Orion responded swiftly. Logan Lee made a 6-yard catch on fourth and 2 to put the Chargers at the Newman 29, and Dawson Schulenberg’s 22-yard scamper two plays later came up a yard short of the end zone.
The Comets made a goal-line stand, but Ryan Fowler’s 18-yard field goal with 7:06 left served as the game-winner.
“With Coach Filler having confidence in me, I knew I was going to make it,” Fowler said. “I’ve been practicing a long time for this, and I’m glad I got the chance to kick those field goals.”
Austin Mack’s sack on third down forced a Newman punt with less than 2 minutes left, and Orion never let the Comets have the ball back.
Chargers running back Seth West caught two passes for 52 yards, but was limited to just 84 rushing yards on 25 carries, and never found the end zone. Knowing the Comets only had one timeout remaining, the senior salted the game with an 18-yard run on second and 10 at the Newman 18 with 1:17 to go.
“On the last few drives we had, [Newman] was getting to us,” West said. “They just made some little mistakes, and we knew we had to jump on those.”
Orion took a 7-0 lead with 2:32 left in the first quarter. With the Comets facing third and 11 on their own 41-yard line, Jeffrey Holbrook snared an interception from Newman quarterback Brycen Bartel and raced 51 yards for the game’s first score.
Fowler’s 30-yard field goal with 8:16 left in the first half increased the Chargers’ advantage to 10-0.
The Comets responded 55 seconds later. Running back Connor McBride looked to be stopped at the line of scrimmage, but burst through several would-be tacklers to score from 71 yards away.
“It was a belly play, so it was designed to go off-tackle,” McBride said. “It got really dark. All I could see were people’s jerseys. Then I saw light to my right, so I cut because there was no one there and headed to the end zone.”
Orion answered right back, as the two teams traded momentum. West raced 35 yards to the Newman 5 after catching a throw-back screen pass from Schulenberg, and on third and goal, the 6-foot-5 Lee caught a 4-yard touchdown pass with 4:32 remaining in the second quarter.
McBride’s 72-yard return on the ensuing kickoff set the Comets’ offense up at the Orion 22. Olson picked up a first down on fourth and inches to put Newman at the Chargers’ 1-yard line, and two plays later, Bartel found Olson for a 5-yard TD pass to cut the deficit to 17-14 at halftime.
Outside of his long touchdown run, McBride was held to just seven yards on 11 carries. Bartel was 2-for-5 for 16 yards passing. Olson and fellow linebacker Chase Graham each had a sack and a tackle for loss. Brody Ivey also had a tackle for loss.
Schulenberg completed 9 of 11 passes for 108 yards, and rushed 13 times for 43 yards.
Orion 20, Newman 17
Star of the game: Ryan Fowler, 8 total points, 2 FGs, kicked game-winning FG
Key performers: Connor McBride, 12 carries, 78 yards, TD, Luke Olson, Newman, 13 carries, 40 yards, TD; Dawson Schulenberg, Orion, 9-for-11 passing, 13 carries, 151 all-purpose yards
Up next: Morrison at Newman, 7:30 p.m. Friday